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Do’s and Dont’s on constructing a learning space for our students

I recently attended a SCHOMS run Spaces Design workshop held @ the University of Birmingham. The ‘Active Learning classroom pictures’ are seen below. This was run by Peter Jamieson who’s a celeb in the Spaces world! The end result was to assist in the development of a resource/work tool which will help when considering learning space design.

The delegates were teachers, estates staff, librarians, architects, technologists and learning environment designers, so a wide range of influence and experience was represented.

The main objective of the day was to review the space the workshop was held in. Having experienced  it in the morning session we broke up into teams to consider all the questions and considerations that would need to be asked when designing such a space. The list of considerations will be collated and  form part of a template that can be used in learning environment design . It is hoped that the template will be of assistance to those designing spaces. More on that soon!

A similar workshop that ran last year, found that a 3 staged educationalist process was needed. This process would be informed by data rich accounts of other projects involving educationally driven evaluation process. The current project process in many Institutions is management heavy and risk averse leaving little scope for dreaming and creating massive uncertainty. Little information is available regarding other projects and there is no extensive archive.


Questions were raised on why evaluation on new learning environments were needed. Whilst it was seen as important to evaluate spaces on fitness for purpose and collect rich experiences using story telling, there was no reason why the evaluation process couldn’t occur before, during and after the project. We were provided with single images and asked to consider the learning environment and any misconceptions and there were many! As I’m undertaking the work on learning spaces, I began to realise that these were the type of conversations we were all having. The number of times I had approached my colleagues to suggest that we must go down and take a look at the learning space at X university..?!!

The main issues that we should consider when constructing a learning space are:

  1. Space
  2. Comfort
  3. Colour
  4. Materials
  5. Feeling
  6. Atmosphere
  7. Character
  8. Experience
  9. Ownership
  10. Occupy
  11. Travel
  12. Project brief
  13. Expectations

The University of  Birmingham wanted to engage students in critical discussions & challenge their thinking. So they designed the room around that ethos and I would agree that it does exactly that.  The 3 tiered classroom(photos above) engages people to move around and sit where they might feel most comfortable, the acoustics are fantastic, the tables fold are of different sizes and fold over each other to make one from two and there are chairs that can be wheeled around as well as other IKEA type of seat boxes. Even the stairs are designed so you can sit on them. This is what a learning space should be about!



What I will take back to City

I have lots of ideas on how we can translate the project process at City. Understanding what makes an effective design is important. The best are likely to assist all within the Institution to work more productively and to produce learners who are confident, adpatable, independent and inspired to learn. In short, the design of our learning spaces should become a physical representation of the Institution’s vision and strategy for learning – responsive, inclusive and supportive of attainment by all.

I have included our project process in a form of a story board so you can see the range of factors that should be taken into consideration.






Why should we provide uniformity in our classrooms when our students are so diverse?

Peter has designed what used to be a gym into an active learning space where the students are responsible for configuring the space. This learning space has carpet cut outs which act as a measuring stick, and the desks are made of particle boards which can be stored away. This space is now being used to educate a range of masters courses. It was also agreed that climate control and light encourages learning too, which often get sidelined! I will be linking to his story when its available.

What I am learning about learning and teaching design including, but not always,the use of technology in the design process.

What’s stopping us designing spaces where there is no technology in there whatsoever. In schools, a range of classrooms have beanbags as its understood that teenage boys, who can be distracted easily, actually perform better in that type of learning space.

Last but not least, here is a useful article which really helped me to consider our learning space in its entirety.

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  1. November 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm

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